The Computers in Chemistry at Cabrillo College (C4) project creates visually compelling and effective educational chemistry software for both students and instructors in lower division chemistry courses. Based at a community college in Aptos, California, and primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, C4 produces molecular models, student exercises, tutorials, and posters that take advantage of advanced technologies in visualization. Adhering to well established design patterns, C4 produces software that maximizes information content while remaining visually appealing.
The Computers in Chemistry at Cabrillo College (C4) project started in 1993 as a collaboration between a community college chemistry professor, Dr. Harry Ungar, and his organic chemistry student, Albion Baucom. Working together to introduce an early molecular visualization program called Nano-Vision into classroom instruction, they began by creating still images for Dr. Ungar's syllabus, and quickly learned how to make animations of molecules in motion using an early version of Macromedia Director on a Macintosh SE-30 computer. Within a year they recruited another bright enthusiastic chemistry student, Jason Camara, to help with content creation. With two students working on the project, it was decided that it would be worthwhile to write a to NSF proposal to support the development team and their goals.
In 1996 Dr. Ungar was awarded a $100K NSF grant for curriculum development in chemistry using community college students to help generate the content. Student assistants were recruited and hired from Dr. Ungar's organic chemistry classes. At this point another accomplished student, Slaton Lipscomb, was hired and went on to contribute a great deal to the C4 project.
With the help of student assistants, and using an emerging browser plug-in called Chime, a series of projects were designed and implemented using the grant funding. The projects included a tutorial for using Chime, an extensive set of exercises that could be accessed over the world wide web that were eventually adopted by publishers as supplemental textbook material, a molecular library for instructional use in the classroom, and a protein structure tutorial. These exercises incorporated "Live", interactive computer models that were used in conjunction with paper quizzes to strengthen students understanding of the 3D nature of chemical structures in organic chemistry.
Following the development of Chime tools and exercises, Dr. Ungar became interested in bringing computational chemistry and visualization into his organic chemistry curriculum but was stymied by the high cost of commercial software. Then he discovered WebMO, an internet based interface to ab-initio and semi-empirical quantum mechanics software, developed by Prof. Will Polik, and JR Schmidt, a team from Hope College, Michigan. Working with Dr. Jason Camara, now also a member of the chemistry faculty at Cabrillo College, they joined forces with the WebMO developers and secured NSF funding to support collaboration between the C4 and WebMO teams. To this end another NSF grant was written, and funded.
Currently working together to improve WebMO, and promote its use in organic chemistry classrooms and labs around the country, the C4 team continues to produce chemistry software that is visually informative and helps students in lower division chemistry courses understand difficult abstract concepts.